My trip back to school was as enlightening for me as I hope it was for everyone else

If the students I met are in charge in 20 years I think we’ll be alright

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The Independent Online

A year ago we launched the Back to School campaign to help state secondaries emulate the success of private school alumni networks. We, and our partner charity Future First, have been overwhelmed by readers’ support. The number of people signed up to help has risen from 50,000 to 90,000. Thank you!

This week I went to practise what I’ve promoted in these pages, with a visit to the excellent Ashmole Academy in north London, to talk to 350 sixth-formers for Robert Peston’s charity Speakers for Schools.

Students ask tough questions. How much do you get paid? Should I go to university? As a newspaper editor, do you have to be of unassailable moral character?

(I nearly snorted out of my nose.) When you recruit, what skills or personality are you looking for?

At Ashmole, Sanika Raichura wanted to know: “How often do the skills learnt in lessons come in handy in real life?” Ivan Fairhurst asked: “Is paying taxes and other bills stressful and how can we arrange our lives so these aren’t a worry?” Aaron Rahman’s question was the hot topic, “Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?” I left with a spring in my step, a buzz from being around smart, lively people. If this lot are in charge in 20 years we’ll be alright.

Some people have good reasons for avoiding their almae matres. Many of us have mixed feelings. But state school careers advice has long been haphazard.

So, whatever your trade or profession, if you feel able to contribute an hour to a school near you, drop them a line – or our partner charity can help set you up with a local school in need: